Wednesday, June 26, 2013

History in Pictures

Happy 20th Anniversary, Sweetheart!  20 years.  I wrote a "Husband List" before we even met and started dating.  It was 6 pages long.  No pressure, right?!  I think it was the "thing" to do in Christendom way back when, now hidden in a journal somewhere in the basement.   On it were things about integrity, wisdom, a sense of humor, someone who was a good financial steward.  Truth be told, I don't recall all the things I thought a husband should be, or at least things I wanted in one, but I remember the first item and it read like this:

  1. My husband has to love God more than he loves me.  If this isn't in order, nothing else will be.
In my immaturity as a 21 year old girl marrying the love of her life, somewhere in my heart I'm sure I thought you would be all those things when we walked down the aisle.

Time and maturity and many moments on our knees before God have shown me how very short the list could have been in the first place.  The rest has been icing on the cake.  After I self-righteously scribed "The Husband" list years ago, the person leading us in the exercise said, "Okay, now, before you can expect those tings from another person, you have to be willing to let God instruct YOU in them, as well."

It's safe to say, this has been a journey of learning, the best and hardest lessons of my life, but I can't imagine not learning to love and live without you by my side. 

For a man of few words, you sure married a wordy girl.  I could just write, "I love you," but there's just so much more to it with 20+ years of inside jokes, memories shared, world travels, losing loved ones, having kids, remodeling 2 houses, job losses and gains.  All I know is, you could write a post entitled, "What Every Husband, and Guy Whoever Wants to be One, Needs to Know to Have a Happy and Healthy Marriage."  Sweetheart, you are an expert in this field, and I think it boils down to you doing these three things very, very, very well:

You love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind...and you love your neighbor as you love yourself.

And by neighbor, that would be me. *wink, wink

Marriages are crumbling and dying all around us.  This isn't to say we haven't walked through gray areas, dry zones, and faced what seemed insurmountable obstacles.  We have.

But I love God more than I love you, too, and so it's worked.  We work.

I told you "I love you" first.
A note your mom gave to me before our wedding.  This is a letter every mom should write to their future child-in-law.
June 26th, 1993
Our first self-portrait as Mr. and Mrs. Jason Graves, ready to set out on the first of many adventures.
10 nights in paradise
Your leg was shaking as you braced yourself over the waterfalls.  Thanks for splurging on our student income...Maui was a fantastic memory!
Remember the storm that morning?  So much has changed since the time this picture was taken.  I was so blessed to know your dad, Sweetheart!  And my heart is full to call your mom a dear friend and to walk and do life with my parents in the day to day.  We are so rich!
Your first Weber at Foxfire, Tulsa, OK
I love that besides Mexico, every country I've ever traveled to, it's been with you!  Here's a sweet little Siberian fan of yours.
I believe this anniversary consisted of strange tasting pizza in St. Petersburg, followed up with 60 teenagers asking us how our date went...
I know we moved to MN for your PhD, but I just want to thank you for putting up with me and my love of student ministry and mentoring girls.  Those 5 years I worked at NWC were a highlight of my 20's, even as rough as some of them were.  I can't believe I got paid to hang out with hundreds of young women year after year!  Thank YOU for being secure in who you are and never being jealous of the time I spent with the girls!   I loved that job and every girl I met there.  My life is richer for knowing each one, and though you were quiet and working on your thesis most of that time, I felt your constant support, so thank you! You seriously are the best!
Here you are on a bro-mance getaway to Alaska...because that is something we both shared openly up front:  friendship and time with our guys or girlfriends is important.  I appreciate so much your healthy, balanced approach to knowing you can't fill my every need, nor can I fill yours.  I'm so grateful you have had man getaways and I just want to say, "Thank you!" for the times you've encouraged me to be with my Bevies!

More bro-mance happening over turkey carcasses...
On top of the world...or at least the Andes.  I always wanted to travel the world...I didn't figure we'd always have teenagers with us, but hey, leading trips meant they were paid for, hey hey!!!
Thanks for allowing me this one semi-crush.  Bono is too short for me, and married and all, but I never wanted to marry have always been the only man I ever wanted to marry.  Thanks for all the concerts over the years.
Our first house in White Bear Lake.  We sure did make that thing cute!  I remember being in the basement, barely pregnant with Emily, watching airplanes fly into the Twin Towers.  Better memories, however, were living only a few blocks away from Ryan and Shannon, walking over to that burger place or Einstein's, and playing pranks on our friends.
Ahh, Gramma Pat's house.  Thank you for your patience with me as the daughter of a builder who saw no reasons why we couldn't just knock down that wall and that wall and that wall, all while pregnant with our firstborn!  Were we crazy?  All I know, I was large and in charge!  You did a beautiful job on that place, Sweetheart!  Thanks for making 803 Poplar our home!
I always knew you'd be a great dad!  You were pretty in awe of Emily making her sweet entrance into the world!  Thanks for holding my hand, helping me breathe, and pushing my hair out of my face.  It still blows my mind that God would say, the very moment she was born, "I love her more!" 
Our Peanut, Firstborn, Daddy's Girl. circa 2004

And since you or I had never been a parent before, all I can say is, I'm glad we've gotten to "wing it" together!  We haven't done it all right, but I think she's turning out alright...and that because you place God first.
I think this was our first official nugget of time away from Em.  Thanks for playing in the Big Apple with me!  We've been in some pretty fun places together!  Can't wait for some more!
Pretty sure this is our 12th anniversary when we first discovered Vesta Dipping Grill.
Perks of you working for a company out of England...Thanks for letting us tag along for a couple of weeks.  Thanks for being sweet and enduring my love of Lady Di and having lunch at that one place plastered with her pictures, too.

Oh man, this was a fun trip!  Remember the little Japanese ladies who came to our hotel room and walked on our backs?  How was that naked business meeting of yours?  Awkward?  #japanesebathhouse #nikkojapan #tallestpeopleinjapanthatweek

Our firstborn son.  Oh man, I was so happy to give you a boy, and selfishly to soak him up myself.  Thanks for being a champ and going along with inviting all my Bevies into the delivery room!  Thanks, too, for choosing Noah's name.  It was beautiful...he was beautiful!
Mt. Evans hike with your man cub, June or July 2006.
August 2nd, 2006.  God was my Solid Rock, you were my hand to hold and shoulder to lean on.  Your faithfulness was unmatched.

We celebrated his 1st birthday surrounded by friends and rainbows in the sky.  He was the only one not in attendance.

Years later, on this anniversary, I think we had found our smile again...
On this one, I know we did, because the following picture is a result...wakka, wakka

Brave, protective big sister...scared mama, trying to treasure the life of the one growing in me.  Thanks for taking a risk with me, Sweetheart!  Trying this whole "having a kid again" thing was a rollercoaster, but one I'm glad I got on.  Thanks for holding my hair back as I puked my way through the fear.  You're kind of awesome!

I know you were tired, physically and emotionally.  By this picture, you and I had already celebrated 17 anniversaries!  Honored to welcome into our lives this son named after your friend. 

#deepcontentmentandthankfulness #utterexhaustion #ilovemyguys

20 years, Sweetheart.  20 years.  You are the most generous man I've ever known.  You are wise, in fact, those scriptures in Proverbs about wise guys with few words, well, I know God wrote some of those specifically about you. 

This is from our 19th wedding anniversary last year having Spanish tapas in downtown Denver.  This year we'll be having tapas in Spain.  I can't wait for more adventures, though I do not take for granted all we've already shared.
Jason Aaron Graves, you are my very best friend and I'd say "I do" all over again if you asked me.  But this time I would skip the poofy dress...

I sure love you, Sweetheart!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

It's Important for you to Know

It's important for you to know I don't always hate myself.

It's important because it is the truth.

And "hate" is a big word, one which isn't truly accurate for how I feel day in and day out.  But for those of you who struggle with the person in the mirror on occasion, you know when the word "hate" is stirring and feel the brunt of it when it rears its ugly head.

Most days I don't even think about myself.  I love being a wife and mom and friend and neighbor.  All roles I enjoy and have even chosen.

But this morning a thought came to mind.  After processing it a bit with my husband, a friend, and just an hour ago with my counselor, I'll try my best to convey here.

Earlier this week I read this article.  Before you criticize the author, read it and then process it through the following filter:

My intention in attending a 4-year college was not to find a husband.  I mean, really, if you think about it...$20,000/year for private schooling = a really nice dowry after 4 years.  Instead, I got married with a heap load of debt.  I went to school with a desire to learn and grow and explore more of God's creativity, knowledge, and will for my life.  Originally I wanted to be a writer, but after being placed in remedial English my freshman year (WHO KNEW you could study for the SAT???!!!) and being challenged by my parents to choose a "real major," I decided to move forward in pre-med, because I at least knew I wanted to heal people.  (*Pretty sure my parents envisioned a beatnik writer in a smoky coffee shop with a beret handing out free copies of my work or a writer in a cabin in the woods, never publishing but living off her parents.  I think they forgot about journalists and columnists and you know, authors and writers.)

Photo by Ann Larie Valentine
If you've read here a while, you know I didn't make it through pre-med, seeing as how passing chemistry is necessary and all.  With a passion for international travel and culture and a love for God's love story for the world, I majored in Theology with a Missions emphasis and a minor in Spanish.  Upon graduation, my husband and I set off with hundreds of teenagers in tow to Venezuela to share God's love, and that was just the beginning.  (*This doesn't really have anything to do with what I'm talking about here...but you try tracing a thought in your head on paper.  It's tough stuff.)

Anyway, way back when my mom told me about reproduction, namely sex and baby delivery, I was cool never being a mom.  And FOR SURE not going through the delivery part.  Ewwww and OWWW!  Kids were fine and all if they belonged to someone else, but for me, it was six in one, half dozen in the other.  Then I met my husband and realized he would be one amazing dad.  And then I met our first child and fell in love.

I hung up the world of Student Development in the college setting, having only been surrounded by college aged women from the time I entered college plus 7 more years as a professional.  And I entered into daily one on one's with an infant girl.  One for whom I was souly (*I meant: soul) responsible, but really had nothing to give in return other than bodily excretions and some lovely sounds and snuggles.  All good, but not the reason I went to college.

Soooo, follow along here for a sec...a few years ago my mom and I were talking about indulgence and contentment specifically how I'll eat to escape.  We talked about how on vacation we are relaxed, enjoying feelings attached to new memories, rewarding experiences, and new pleasures, often times coupled with dining and trying exotic foods or yummy drinks or relaxing on warm beaches.  These are all good and great and obviously a luxury, but all reasons we long for and look forward to vacations, even short getaways. 

This morning it occurred to me, a person who loves authenticity and enjoys the art of writing, whether on paper or in my head, that even though I love being a wife and mom, those roles do not define me.  My friend even said her husband posed the question to her several years ago, "If I died or our children died, you wouldn't be my wife or their mother who would YOU be, not what would you DO?"  He went on to say those are roles she may love, but they aren't necessarily her authentic true self, they are part of her but not her.

Are you even tracking with me?  I'm sorry if not...I'm trying here.

So, I can't speak for you, but I'll speak for myself.  I adore my children and am a really good mom.  I'm also a smoking hot, attentive wife who prays favor and blessings over my husband every day.  And during this season of life, which is now going on 11 years as a parent, 20 as a wife, I've put aside much of my own desires, passions, pursuits, and ways in which I am wired, to focus on the here and now, namely my family and their well-being.

I put all my coals in one fire.

Like the British mum who expressed her heart, this is not something I should have done.  Loving myself by keeping one iron in the fire would have kept God's deposits, His gifts, still kindling.  INSTEAD, like many SAHM's and Outside the Home Working Mums, I focused on just one thing and that one thing became THE thing.  And as a result, I have FILLED those places which were rich and fulfilling with temporary satisfaction, namely food.

And maybe you've filled it with an addiction to sassy coffee or keeping a perfectly clean house or volunteering extra hours at things which are good and worthwhile and important or shopping or redecorating and redecorating and redecorating your house or that third glass of wine?  Or maybe you've filled it with accomplishments at work and others opinions of you or checking things off a list or keeping up the image you portray to those around you, no matter how weary you really are?

These feelings we experience on vacation when we are able to escape from the day to day become feelings we want to experience in the day to day when the rubber hits the road and we feel overwhelmed...and especially as Americans, we think we deserve it.

Okay, never mind, I'll speak for myself...I think I deserve it.

I think because I did 7 loads of laundry, cleaned the house, got Em off to school and played trains and dinosaurs with Ryan for three hours and put a healthy dinner on the table, I deserve this or that reward...and truth be told, I crave the reward and instant gratification food or wine or, for sure, chocolate, delivers.

All the while, the reason these temporary indulgences have come up short is because as I dove head first into being a mom, specifically, I didn't leave an iron in the fire.  A writing iron, that is.  The very iron God designed in me as an outlet for creativity and in more recent years, for authenticity, ministry, and healing.

Which leads me to my Facebook post after counseling today:

"Here I go to counseling to talk about disordered eating and unhealthy expectations and body image, and we wind up talking about writing...because apparently when I write authentically, candidly, and with vulnerability, I'm being true to who God made me to be."  #stuffcounselorstellyouthatyouknowdeepdown #killingmonsters #findingfreedomtowritemyheartout

After counseling I had lunch with Jason, then headed to a beatnik coffee shop to write.

The girls next to me asked me what I do.

I told them I'm a writer.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

And 10 Things I Love About Me

So, last fall I was really humbled to be part of an intimate retreat weekend in Austin, Texas.  I relished in hearing the stories of the women I had never met, as well as cherished the opportunity to reconnect with the girls I knew from various times in my life.  To be honest, just be away from everything and have girl time was what the Doctor ordered.

I love girl time.  (Written language is inadequate a tool for me to convey how much I love time with girlfriends...)

Kristin Armstrong shared some of her own story during our weekend, with authenticity and vulnerability.  She's a fan of Brene Brown, queen of vulnerability, but not only that, she's a fan of girlfriends and especially a fan of when we as women come together and thrive in our uniqueness. 

I still carry many treasures from that weekend, but one I keep coming back to is how Kristin asked each of us to think for a while, to remember way back when, to our first memory of really feeling alive doing what we loved to do.  Like, "when you were a kid, what was your favorite thing to do?" type of question. 

And then, basically, what your first memory of your favorite thing was is how you were designed/wired/ God made you..."what you would thrive in being when you 'grow up'."

My memory of when I first felt alive was on the playground in elementary school.  I could picture it clear as day, and I could see myself, gathering girls.

Photo: "Portland Park Series"

I wanted everyone to belong.  My heart hurt when other girls felt left out.  I still remember the names of some of my classmates...the ones other kids made fun of for different clothes, different ticks, different skin color.

I felt most alive and the deepest joy when swinging on the monkey bars or climbing the Rocket Slide with all the girls.  It made my heart happy when we ALL played Chinese jump rope or Double Dutch, taking turns.  Even though only two could go at a time, I loved taking turns on Wall Ball, Tether Ball, and on the swings.

The 80's were good on the playground.  Photo:

For me it wasn't hard to believe we could all just get along.  Even if we had disagreements, I knew deep down in my heart the playground was for everyone...Krissy, Swati, Kari S, all of us.

It wasn't just for the whoevertheheckdecideswhoispopular kids.

And so, even if some days I sit on my floor and cry because I'm stuck and not in love with myself, because of your encouragement and God's love for me, I woke up to this reminder this morning.

Here are 10 Things I Love About Me and I have even gone to my counseling appointment, wink, wink:
  1. I am a peacemaker.  "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.  That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family."
  2. I love to build bridges between women.
  3. I actually do love to play on the playground.
  4. I love listening to the stories of other women.
  5. I love to see a woman living in complete me, it's one of the most beautiful sights to behold.  There's nothing she can't do...
  6. I love how much my heart is capable of loving my husband and kids.
  7. I love time with girlfriends.
  8. I'm really good at making soup from scratch.
  9. I love to sew and design and create clothes and jewelry and decor.
  10. I will always believe the best about you, because we all have a story...
*I won't lie, writing this list took me a lot longer than my "hate" list.

I challenge you, not just to do this exercise, but because it will encourage others, as well:  in the comments, write 10 Things You Love About Yourself.

Ready, go...

Friday, June 07, 2013

10 Things I Hate About Me

I just thought of that title so, either this list will be a piece of cake and I'll need to make a part 2 and 3, or I will need to make some stuff up.

  1. My upper arms.
  2. My bent towards inconsistency.
  3. How my self-worth is so closely knit with 10 lbs of fat and whether I eat "clean"or not...or not.
  4. My eternal optimism for everyone else, but inability to offer it to myself.
  5. How I can treat the people I love the very most with complacency when I feel fat and failure-ish because I eat a carb instead of not.
  6. My unrelenting desire to make peace between others but my inability to make peace with myself.
  7. The fact that I could even write a list like this.
  8. That I am an isolationist when I don't have my shit in order.
  9. How I will believe the best about you to a fault, even if you actually suck as a person.
  10. #3 and #6
A couple of weeks ago I sat on the floor in my closet and cried.  I hadn't tripped trying to change my clothes, hitting my head on the dresser or wall or anything.  It wasn't due to a physical injury.  I was crying because I'm messed up.  I was crying out to God.  "How can my worth be so intrinsically connected to the fat on my body?!?!  I don't want to be this shallow!  I know You designed me to matter so WHY can't I break free from this endless battle that rages in my head and heart?  Why can't I just eat clean and be done with this friggin' 'journey'?????"

On Mother's Day my daughter gave me a poem she had been working on for a couple of months.  Here it is, written exactly as she did:

why i love you mom
you are funny
you love me more than stars in the sky
you comfort me when I'm sad
I can talk to you about anything
you are fun to hang out with
you would do anything for me
you care for me
you're compassionate
you're creative
you're loving
you have a good sense of humor
you're talented
you can find good in anything
you have a awesome sense in fashion
andddd you're awesome!!!!!!!!!!
you know me so well
mom, these are some the reasons i love you

I've never let Emily know how much I'm not a fan of myself.  I'm a good liar...except I'm actually known for totally sucking at lying.  I can't do it.  I have never said, "I'm fat or ugly or I don't like myself" in front of her.  But she's not stupid, in fact, she's quite brilliant.  And like I said, I suck at lying, so I know I'm not pulling the wool over her eyes.

This is NOT the legacy I want to leave...

So, on Tuesday I'm headed to see a counselor who specializes in Eating Disorders.

Because the things she loves about me are there deep down inside and they matter and they are the things I know make up my true beauty.  And I actually do believe these things about myself, the "beauty" my daughter sees, but what I believe in my head just hasn't quite made it to my heart and I think I need someone to help me get there...

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

X Does Not Equal Y

"I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them." 
 - Bob Goff, author of "Love Does"
(mandatory must read for the summer...)

Recently I had a conversation with someone who was creating doctrines out of "one-liners," essentially judging the behaviors of others with consequences they saw fitting from the Bible based on one single sentence in Scripture.

X = Y.

This is dangerous business, the doling out of judgments, biases, and "God's" reprimands.  This is what denominations and religions and cults and cliques and exclusive clubs within Christianity have been built on for ages and in more recent years, I personally see it gaining momentum.  A momentum which is building even in light of all the free love and acceptance that's preached on any given Sunday.

This business alone is God's.  Just God's.  God revives hearts.  God's mission is all of us.  God is the miraculous.

How very helpful we must feel to point out the imperfections of know, because God can't see them on His own and all.  And what we have to show others in being right and proving their wrongness will sure teach them and inspire them to want to be more like us...urrr, God, I mean.

Sin is real.  And sin is painful.  And we all sin.  And the truth is, we don't sin exclusively, meaning, it doesn't only affect us, it affects our relationship with God and our loving relationship and connectedness to other humans.  Sin is a big deal.  But not so big that God can't forgive it...and never so big that we can't go to Him and receive renewal in His grace, every day, fresh each morning.

It seems it's only the humans who want to keep pointing out one another's suckiness...

I can think of two specific examples where God gave "X = Y" a swift kick in the pants.  There are tons more, but these two I've been chewing on more recently.
  • One is when the super spiritual people of the day approach Jesus and ask him about this blind guy, stating, "Who sinned, the man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?"  The Message answer reads, "Jesus said, 'You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines."
  • Another is when the spiritual ones brought to Jesus a woman who had an affair.  They pointed out the laws written stating she should be stoned because of her behavior.  Rocks would hurt.  They would definitely kill her.  I wonder how many of the spiritual ones said stuff like, "Well, she deserves it, I mean, she's the one who had the affair..." And then Jesus said, "The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone."  And then it says, "Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone."
Then let's just chuck it all.  I mean, pointing fingers and segregating throughout the course of church history has clearly made the world a better place.  Either chuck it all, God, baby, and the bath water, or, better yet, because this has definitely been more effective:  let's surround ourselves with people who believe the exact. same. things. we do and then let's point out all the ways in which everyone else doesn't measure up to what it is we believe.  Yep.  That, for sure, will convey God's supernatural, unconditional love, grace, forgiveness, and Sacrifice to a hurting world.

How is it, then, that we should live?  "'Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’  These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” - The Message, Matthew 22:36-40

So then what?  Just love God with all your guts, and love everybody else and yourself as #2?  Is it that simple?  

And yet it's almost excruciating at times, because usually what we hate the most in others and are able to see blatantly in the behavior of others is what we most readily recognize within ourselves.
Radical love isn't pointing out one another's shit.  It's walking through it together.

Monday, June 03, 2013

The Next 90 Days

I'm not a consistent blog reader, or writer, obviously.  It goes in waves, sometimes because I have time, sometimes as the crow flies, other times if I'm inspired to write, or read, if there's a good link from a trusted friend.  Yada, yada.

So, this friend who is a missionary is home on furlough.  We were going to grab coffee last week, so I went to her blog to catch up on some news and see what was "new" in her world, besides what I already knew through some emails.

On her blog she had put it out there if anyone wanted to join her in reading through the Bible in 90 days.  Her start date was something like June 18th ish.

I emailed her prior to our coffee date and said I'd love to join her in reading through the Bible in 90 days.  Those year long reading programs just seemed so, oh I don't know, long and drawn out.  This seemed like a great challenge and since I've just finished up some great study time in the prophetic books (Daniel ROCKS), I thought it would be great to go back through the Bible from cover to cover, this time, though, in The Message Remix version.

She said, "HA!  That's funny!  I'm not a very consistent blogger.  That post was from one year ago!"

Then she let me know she'd love to join me, but she's about to dive into learning the Czech language all summer, so couldn't do both.  Whatever, just because she's got 4 kids, is living in someone else's home and learning Czech, moving to another foreign country in 2 months, I mean, what's the big deal?!  *please know I'm joking...

But I was already kind of excited, so I determined to start on June 1st and then threw it "out there" to Facebook world.

And 15 girls from around the country are doing it, too!  I was BLOWN AWAY!  I'm a total team player, so was so excited to set out on this journey with others, though I was going to do it on my own either way.

I've read and studied the New International Version of the Bible for 26 years now.  And it's good and rich and I love all God has taught me through reading it. 

But I'm also NOT that girl who thinks you can only know God if you read the KJV or whatever other Koolaid some people are trying to pour you.

Anyway, I love the wording of The Message Remix and have been reading it sporadically over the last year (Mother's Day gift, 2012) as my main go-to.  And I tell you what, reading it from beginning to end (I'm only on Genesis 45 right now, day 3) is already totally awesome!  And difficult, and gut-wrenching, and I wish I had more hours in the day...

If you are interested in doing it, too, and are on Facebook, you can let me know here in the comments and I can add you to the private group.  Though you can just check in here, too, once in a while as I'll be posting here and there about what God shows me.  We aren't following a specific reading plan or anything.  This isn't a legalistic undertaking, but a time of intention to read for what works out to be approximately one hour a day.  Often times in Bible studies or times of prayer, we are the ones doing all the talking, going down our list of things we want God to do for us.  This is a time of reading what God has done throughout history and what His deep down love story looks like for mankind...what He has to say to us.

And, my friend even listened to it on CD if she was out on a walk or in her car or whatever. 


I hope you can join us.  If not, when you think of it, please pray for us.  We're in:  MN, HI, CO, VA, GA, NC, OK, MI, NE, TX, and...